Shock, Awe… Horror, Disgust… Business as Usual… and Deja Vu

24 Mar 2003

Paul R. Potts

It’s a Monday. It hasn’t been a good day in battle, say the headlines. Wall Street has started to lose its enthusiasm, realizing, to their apparent surprise, that you can’t conquer a sovereign nation the size of California – even an impoverished, desperate sovereign nation – over a three-day weekend, so the lucrative rebuilding contracts aren’t quite ready to hand out.

Maybe as we listen to the endless echoes that whisper “support our troops,” we could take a moment to consider how the Bush administration is supporting them: by slashing veteran’s benefits. Yes, they really are pushing this through right now, and the vote has split along party lines. Just astounding. See also this article and this one. In case you missed it, veterans themselves are starting to speak out against the Bush administration, too.

It should not be a surprise, but we’re starting to see losses. A British jet was brought down, somewhat predictably, by an American Patriot missile. We’ve killed a journalist with “friendly fire.” The Patriots didn’t perform flawlessly in Desert Storm and missed a few Scuds, including one notable case where a Patriot failed to prevent the deaths of 28 Americans in an Army barracks (see the GAO’s story on the software problem that supposedly led to this failure here. There are always a few bugs to work out. This should come as no shock… unless you believe in Star Wars.

We’ve now had some personnel losses on the ground. Al-Jazeera broadcast footage of American POWs, and some killed in battle. I’ve seen the stills, even though Al-Jazeera’s web site was pretty well hammered (apparently, it runs Microsoft SQL Server; relatively easy to crash). They’re gruesome, of course. This is not surprising. But the big controversy today: not “how did this happen?” or even “is this justified by our goals?” but “should Americans be able to see those pictures, those scenes?” And then, the outrage: goodness, “Iraq has violated the Geneva Convention!”

In case you missed it, we haven’t done such a great job taking care of our prisoners of the “war on terror.” (According to Rumsfeld, they aren’t POWs, and so aren’t entitled to Geneva Convention treatment, but the press can’t take pictures of their living conditions… because that would violate the Geneva Convention. WTF And, of course, there’s the Iraqui soldiers we plowed under in their trenches, or bombed as they retreated (see the essay here. We even claimed that it was legal. And that’s just some very recent examples. Please keep these things in mind when you hear American officials expressing righteous indignation about Iraq’s atrocities towards our POWs; you’d come away thinking that we have some measure of respect for International Law. We don’t.

This is going to take longer than “predicted.” Predicted by whom? Did someone forget to tell the pundits exactly what going to war would involve? That people were going to be killed? Did people simply forget to take some time to think, prior to jumping in and throwing their support behind this endeavor?

The Guardian writes here:

…for the first few days of the Iraq invasion, British and American opinion has been in danger of slipping into a fool’s paradise. Buoyed by our sense of technological, political and moral superiority towards Iraq, and precipitated by our culture’s preference for short, sharp, scheduled outcomes, we have risked falling prey to a delusion that modern war is easy, cost-free and entertaining, when it is none of these things.

Did someone forget that in Desert Storm, the Iraqui army was in Kuwait, far from home, with the problem of supply lines, of escape routes. Attacking the Iraqui army in Baghdad has never looked to me like a Desert Storm situation. It has looked to me like… a Vietnam. Another country the size of California, where it was difficult to distinguish combatants from noncombatants, and where our frustration and fear led us to commit atrocities. And then there were the fraggings

Meanwhile, on the peace front, the opposition to this misbegotten war is growing and seems to be gaining legitimacy. It isn’t just students out to cut class who are stating their opposition. And it isn’t just about this war: it’s also about the new National Security Strategy: the so-called Bush doctrine. This document is what is going to determine our next war, when we’ve abandoned Iraq to its wreckage and left the cleaning up to various humanitarian organizations that we won’t bother to fund.

During the first Gulf War, I told everyone I knew to please, have their second thoughts first. Killing is killing. After the first Gulf War, Bush Senior crowed that “the specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian Peninsula.” It looks like this time there will be plenty of time for people to carefully consider their views… while we dig it up.

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